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Virginia House passes bill heavily regulating assault weapons

Includes restricting certain magazine sizes

Richmond, Va. – A version of the controversial assault weapons ban passed one house in the Virginia legislature Tuesday.

The bill would place restrictions on certain guns, making it illegal to buy or sell them in the commonwealth. It would not affect guns that residents already own.

It would also make it illegal to have a magazine with a capacity larger than 12 rounds after Jan. 1, 2021.

In another sign of the heated gun rights debate, the Democratic-backed House Bill 961 narrowly passed the House of Delegates by a 51-48 vote, which came on Crossover Day -- the final day for each house to pass or reject its own bills.

The proposal now moves to the Senate, where its future is up in the air, according to leaders of both parties. Lawmakers now have about three weeks to either agree on the details or kill the proposal.

This version of a bill placing restrictions on assault weapons covers any rifle or pistol with a magazine that holds 12 rounds or more and shotguns that can hold more than seven shells.

Under the bill: “It is unlawful for any person to import, sell, transfer, manufacture, or purchase an assault firearm.” The legislation would make a violation a Class 6 felony.

Possession, however, would remain legal.

Many Democrats celebrated the vote.

“I’m glad that we’re making good progress. All along the way, what I have seen is a very thoughtful approach,” said Del. Sam Rasoul, D - Roanoke. “It has a long way to go, and we’ll continue listening.”

More debate is expected, and the bill could face more changes.

Its fate is up in the air, as leaders of both parties expressed to 10 News Tuesday night a feeling of doubt that their side will score a win on this issue.

Democrats representing southwest Virginia said they don’t know if the bill will have enough support to become law.

“I think it’s too early to tell,” said Sen. John Edwards, D - Roanoke. “I think the likelihood is that it’ll not go through the (Senate) Judiciary Committee.”

GOP leaders tell 10 News they fear the bill will become law, but they’re hopeful some upcoming changes will scale it back.

“I think we’re going to have a vigorous debate on the Senate floor about that bill,” said Sen. Bill Stanley, R - Franklin County.

Republicans have voiced frustration during this session about the numerous gun control bills that have advanced.

“This has been a devastating year for people who care about the Second Amendment,” said Sen. Steve Newman, R - Lynchburg. “This was the most dangerous year I’ve ever seen in my 29 years.”

One point of contention has been a magazine size limit. Democrats have stressed how important that aspect is.

“There’s certainly a lot of data around high-capacity magazines being used in some of these larger shootings,” Rasoul said. “I don’t know exactly what the magic number is. Through lots of conversations we’ve come up with 12 thus far, but certainly limiting the access to high-capacity magazines is, I think, a thoughtful way to approach it.”

All Republican delegates opposed the bill.

Two House Democrats representing southwest Virginia, Sam Rasoul and Chris Hurst, both voted in favor of it.

Three Democratic delegates voted against it: Lee Carter, Stephen Heretick and Roslyn Tyler. They represent parts of Northern Virginia,Tidewater and rural areas south of Richmond.

In order for any bills to advance to the governor’s desk, lawmakers will have to come to an agreement on them by the end of the session on March 7.

MORE ON HB 961

There are certain circumstances under which a gun that falls under the assault weapon restrictions may be transferred to another person.

The bill’s definition of an assault weapon includes any semi-automatic rifle or pistol that has a magazine capacity of more than 12 rounds. Below are two other descriptions of the types of guns that fall under this category.

“A semi-automatic center-fire rifle that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine and has one of the following characteristics: (i) a folding or telescoping stock; (ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the rifle; (iii) a second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand; (iv) a grenade launcher; (v) a flare launcher, (vi) a silencer; (vii) a flash suppressor; (viii) a muzzle brake; (ix) a muzzle compensator; (x) a threaded barrel capable of accepting (a) a silencer, (b) a flash suppressor, (c) a muzzle brake, or (d) a muzzle compensator; or (xi) any characteristic of like kind as enumerated in clauses (i) through (x).”

“A semi-automatic center-fire pistol that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine and has one of the following characteristics: (i) a folding or telescoping stock; (ii) a second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand; (iii) the capacity to accept a magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip; (iv) a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the pistol with the non-trigger hand without being burned; (v) a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; (vi) a threaded barrel capable of accepting (a) a silencer, (b) a flash suppressor, (c) a barrel extender, or (d) a forward handgrip; or (vii) any characteristic of like kind as enumerated in clauses (i) through (vi).”

Below is the descriptions of shotguns that would be considered assault weapons.

"A shotgun with a revolving cylinder that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material; or

A semi-automatic shotgun that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material that has one of the following characteristics: (i) a folding or telescoping stock, (ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the shotgun, (iii) the ability to accept a detachable magazine, (iv) a fixed magazine capacity in excess of seven rounds; or (v) any characteristic of like kind as enumerated in clauses (i) through (iv)."

Additionally, an assault weapon, “includes any part or combination of parts designed or intended to convert, modify, or otherwise alter a firearm into an assault firearm, or any combination of parts that may be readily assembled into an assault firearm.”

Exceptions are made for antiques.

Below is the bill’s definition of magazine restrictions.

“'Large-capacity firearm magazine’ means any firearm magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that has the capacity of, or can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 12 rounds of ammunition."

It would be illegal to possess them, punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. It would also be illegal to “import, sell, transfer, manufacture, purchase, or transport” them, punishable as a Class 6 felony.

Under the bill, before Jan. 1, 2021, anyone with an illegal magazine must do one of the following.

  • Render it permanently inoperable
  • Remove it from the Commonwealth
  • Transfer it to a person outside the Commonwealth who is not prohibited from possessing it
  • Surrender it to a state or local law-enforcement agency